Inspired, overwhelmed, unstoppable: Israeli artists meet Hollywood heavyweights

From this week’s paper:

A point of pride within the Tel Aviv/Los Angeles Partnership is the annual Film and Television Master Class, a weeklong seminar that pairs emerging Israeli creative talent with Hollywood “masters” — a handful of big names from the major networks, talent agencies and movie studios — who share trade secrets and expertise with the Holy Land hopefuls.

When the idea for a master class first percolated through Federation, it was considered a good match for the partnership: “We asked ourselves, ‘How do we create kesher — connections — between Israelis and Americans so that they can know one another?’ And the best way to do that is through an interest, a passion,” said Jill Holtzman Hoyt, Federation’s senior director for leadership development.

The master class was born when Federation decided it could offer an incipient Israeli film and television industry unique access to Hollywood. Now in its 13th year, the master class, which usually meets during the summer in Tel Aviv, took place in Los Angeles this past July for only the second time since its inception.

“We wanted to do it here in honor of our centennial celebration,” Hoyt said. In the past, Federation had to foot the bill to fly the masters to Tel Aviv. Staying local was more economical, to be sure, but also more convenient: “We can offer better and more access to the industry from Los Angeles.”

This year, Federation accepted 26 participants into the master class —14 from Israel and 12 from Los Angeles — for a rigorous week of meetings that ran daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. and included visits to CBS, Warner Bros., Sony and William Morris Endeavor as well as the private production offices of producers Jerry Bruckheimer and J.J. Abrams. The highly secretive program — participants were not made privy to the following day’s schedule until the night before — was coordinated by Federation’s Entertainment Division co-chairs: CBS President Nina Tassler and Danny Sussman, a talent manager with Brillstein Entertainment Partners. Their combined industry connections scored the group an audience with a number of heavyweights, including “Two and Half Men” producer Chuck Lorre (ostensibly recouping from the Charlie Sheen debacle), the cast of the CBS sitcom “How I Met Your Mother,” WB President Peter Roth and Electus CEO Ben Silverman, producer of “The Office” and “Ugly Betty,” among others. On any given day, session topics ranged from “The Impact and Merits of Social Networking” to “Jewish Communal Responsibility,” and, according to participants, these forums were dispensaries of pragmatic, if not obvious advice.

“This experience seems like a big dream,” Ofira Gold Alfenbaum, a 37-year-old actress and screenwriter, said. “When we saw Jerry Bruckheimer yesterday, I looked at him and I thought, ‘Wow, what’s more than what he’s got?’ If I was him, I’d go to sleep and never do another thing. But you know what he said? He said that you always want more. You can’t stop.”

The scope of Hollywood’s appetite, as well as its sheer size, was especially awe-inspiring among the Israelis. “Everything is so big! I mean, even the buildings,” exclaimed Shmuel Beru, an Ethiopian Israeli filmmaker who had been to Los Angeles twice before to screen his feature “Zrubavel” at local film festivals. But until this week, he had only imagined the inner workings of Hollywood from half a world away, and the glamorous images took some getting used to: “I was expecting that these people are from another planet — like, they don’t eat what we eat; they do everything different. Even their sex is not like our sex,” he said.

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